Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Voters May Get Last Word on Allentown's H2O Privatization

The Lehigh Valley's three cities have all been stung by a budget-busting pension crisis. So in Easton, Mayor Sal Panto pushed through an unpopular commuter tax that he himself hates. In Bethlehem, Mayor John Callahan is the midst of a full court press for a single trash hauler and the money it brings into City coffers. But compared to Allentown, this is penny ante stuff. In the Queen City, Mayor Edwin Pawklowski wants to unload his water and sewer systems with a long-term lease. With $150 million, he'll be able to fund that pension debt and build every city employee a man cave to boot.

Environmentalists have concerns. Will water quality suffer? One of the bidders has purchased water elsewhere to supply to frackers. Will rates skyrocket? In power points and video, Pawlowski insists that won't happen, but many of his usual supporters are skeptical.

One of these supporters is "Camera Dan," or Dan Poresky. He, Glenn L. Hunsicker, Glenn S. Hunsicker, former Controller William Hoffman, and former Council member Michael Donovan have formed a petition committee to give the voters a direct say in this question.

As a rule, I tend to oppose direct democracy, sometimes called initiative and referendum, especially on complicated matters like this. People let their emotions, and not the facts, dictate their votes.

But this is Allentown, where democracy is dead. Three of its seven Council members have not even been elected. Of its 63,806 registered voters, it took just 7,908 of them - a scant 12.4% - to elect Edwin Pawlowski to his second term as Mayor.

Instead of a democracy, Allentown is an urban growth regime in which politicians and select members of the business world co-opt each other, not for the benefit of the community, but to advance their own business interests.

So in this instance, I'd support giving the voters a direct say in the privatization of its water supply.

Poresky and friends have already announced they have enough signatures, but that means nothing unless the City Council Clerk agrees. Last night, I was surpprsed to learn that he does.

Poresky's announcement follows:

The Petitioners Committee that was formed October 12, in response to Mayor Pawlowski’s attempt to privatize Allentown’s water and sewer system, received notification December 4, from City Clerk, Michael Hanlon, declaring that petitions submitted to him on November 28, by the committee, have been declared sufficient. Sufficient is a term used in the city charter meaning that the petitions have met all legal requirements.

One hundred-one petitions containing over four thousand signatures were submitted to the city clerk on November 1. The petition asks that City Council establish an ordinance that requires the city to go to the voters for authority to sell or lease any city property or asset valued at $10 million or more.

According to Mr. Hanlon, the initiative will be introduced at the City Council meeting December 21. Council then has 60 days during which it can act. According to Section 1007 of the Home Rule Charter, Council has three options. It can pass an ordinance consistent with the intent of the initiative. Council can also choose to decline to create an ordinance or do nothing. In either of those two instances the initiative goes to the voters as a ballot question in the May election.

Dan Poresky, a member of the petitioners’ committee stated, “We encourage council to adopt the initiative as an ordinance without delay. Doing so would require any proposed water/sewer lease agreement to go to the voters as early as May 2013."

Poresky says, “The petitioners' committee is preparing action to prevent the city from finalizing a lease agreement until their initiative becomes an ordinance. The ordinance could be created either by Council’s action in the next couple of months or, should they not do so, then by a successful ballot question in the May 2013 primary election.”

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr Michael Hanlan, City Clerk, is an outstanding public official by any measure, always one to play it fair and sq.
Kudos to all involved with the petition drive.

City Council and the mayor badly miscalculated the outrage this poorly planed 50 year lease would provoke. The final political blow-back will be significant for individual council members.

Anonymous said...

This is the political end for Julio.

Anonymous said...

Can Peter still be mayor?

Anonymous said...

The mayor still has a few surprises left in his bag of tricks. We will see what happens when he turns up the heat.

Anonymous said...

It brings me no satisfaction to write this but Ed will prevail at the polls on this. He will inundate the voters with dire tales of what will happen if he can't sell the water works. If this doesn't seem to be enough he will question the motives and integrity of those behind the initiative.

Scott Armstrong

Hokie Joe said...

To address the pension problem of cities by selling off assets is just plain "NUTS". You can't address a long term financial problem with a "quick fix'. The State Legislature has to address this problem with common sense changes to existing laws. This is a problem that is mandated....by state legislation.....and selling off assets such as parks, water systems, etc. is not the answer. You only put yourself at the mercy of others to control future increases in those services. These companies work for PROFIT not for a constituency. This idea shouldn't even be on the table. Pensions need to be addressed now and common sense changes to the laws implemented. It will take twenty years to straighten out that mess. You don't do stupid quick fixes for long term problems.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with a couple of the prior posters; Mike Hanlon is one of the most competent and professional public employees around, a real asset to the City. I'm not suprised he made the correct call on this one. I'll also agree with Armstrong, Pawlowski will fire up his "Sugar Plum" financed PR machine and convince the masses of straight ticket D voters that the referendum supporters are selfish, rich, white guys looking to mislead the public for personal gain (will they realize that this exactly who King Edwin is himself?). Lastly, hats off to Bill Hoffman, former Pawlowski backed Contoller for his efforts on this initiative, I always questioned his alliance with Pawlowski, but maybe he is an independent guy after all.

Anonymous said...

Voters in Allentown are not stupid. They already recognize opponents of the water lease have no alternative solution. I wish they did but they don't. The only people who win with a massive tax increase and no water lease are suburban water users who do not pay taxes to the city.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Scott, It's called democracy. Get to work.

Anonymous said...

The petitions do not create an ordinance. Nor would a vote(not the ordinance referendum) in May enact an ordinance. That is a multistep process that goes at least to Nov.

The city has sufficient time to execute a lease and not be constrained by the referendum in May or Nov.

The comments that the opposition has no achievable alternative indicate the real issue. Various numbers are floating around, but a tax increae will exceed 40% if the lease doesn't happen.

And yes, Mr. Hanlon is a very excellant city clerk. Honest and unbelievably patient with lots of difficult citizens.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Although the City has sufficient time to charge ahead, unmindful of the petition, it privatization foes now have a basis for injunctive relief should it come to that. Also, once this is on the ballot, I think few politicians would e willing to interfere with direct democracy, if only out of their own self-interest.

Anonymous said...

If the Mayor should prevail it will cost everyone on City Council ? Except the wonderful JE ) their ploitical careers.
Not that he cares.

Anonymous said...

One possible option would be a very well run and ethical LCA (is that possible?) with elected representation from Allentown of sufficient number to protect the city's interests (as in rate payers). The problem is that those in disagreement were never given an opportunity to sit with the experts on the other side to discuss options creatively. It was the Mayor's way only, and 6 out of 7 council members went along.

Anonymous said...

Where is the Republican leadership at the State level Scott???
Suck a lack of leadership and political courage!!!!!
State ( both parties ) to cities, DROP DEAD!

Anonymous said...

Yes, am honest, well run LCA is possible. Now, is it likely? Only with a kind of County/City collaboration we have never seen, and certainly not with either Cummingham D's or rabid dog GOP right wingers. For different reasons.

Anonymous said...

An honest - well run LCA is up to the County. To date ----- absolutely not. Your guy Cumningham has a lot of shit on his shoes on this one BOH.

Anonymous said...

Bill Hoffman gets HUGE credit for his leadership. Not only is he fighting an uphill battle, quite effectively, but dragging some real dead wood posers along with him.

Don't forget to turn of the lights( duh?).

Anonymous said...

You can do if you try
V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!!!
It's not easy, but you can get those signatures!!
No PRIVITZATION!!!!
Signed,
One of Gracedale petition collectors!!!!

Anonymous said...

"DROP DEAD!"

No, no attack there ... continue, please continue the Hate.

Anonymous said...

I think he means the State of Pa is saying to the cities---DROP DEAD.
Very clearly a reference to a classic NY Post headline from the sixties.
Unfortunate it went over your head.

Anonymous said...

FORD TO CITY - DROP DEAD
NY Daily News
Early seventies...... Why not get it right.

Pa State to Cities today -- Drop Fucking Dead,

State GOP to cities, WHO CARES. Democrats not much better.

Anonymous said...

FORD TO CITY - DROP DEAD
NY Daily News
Early seventies...... Why not get it right.

Pa State to Cities today -- Drop Fucking Dead,

State GOP to cities, WHO CARES. Democrats not much better.

Anonymous said...

God Bless Mr Hoffman. Without him this wouldn't stand a snow and chances in hell.

Thank you sir.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor or City Council never allowed, let alone led, any discussions on alternatives. When the Mayor got wind of this idea he went all in.
He thinks he is the smartest fellow in the room--- plus he has God on his side.

Anonymous said...

A lot of God talk---- so: yes, thank God Hoffman and Donovan are exerting leadership and the Hunsickers are great solid old Allentown folks. I' must admit to being skeptical about Poresky, could be wrong but the guy seems to play both sides of too many games.

Anonymous said...

What exactly should the state be doing for the cities? Cities should live with the outcomes of their own decisions without being subsidized by outside taxpayers.

Maybe if residents had to pay the true cost of the bone-headed decisions their elected officials make at the local level, you'd see better-run local governments.

Anonymous said...

@5:07 Maybe you haven't noticed the cities have a disproportionate number of low income folks--- old infrastructure and other unique concerns.
Perhaps you have also missed the FACT that since WW II the policy deck has been completely stacked toward the sub-burbs / greenfields.
If you can read, try the Brooking Instution Report on Pa.
I'm interested in how you see the cities as outsiders, not part of "us". You trying to tell us something?. How do you really feel about those " others" in the cities?
Perhaps you simple find all the culture and art you need in the strip malls? Perhaps you don't need culture, art, architecture, diversity or history at all? Maybe you find that at the suburban mall?

Anonymous said...

@5:07 Maybe you haven't noticed the cities have a disproportionate number of low income folks--- old infrastructure and other unique concerns.
Perhaps you have also missed the FACT that since WW II the policy deck has been completely stacked toward the sub-burbs / greenfields.
If you can read, try the Brooking Instution Report on Pa.
I'm interested in how you see the cities as outsiders, not part of "us". You trying to tell us something?. How do you really feel about those " others" in the cities?
Perhaps you simple find all the culture and art you need in the strip malls? Perhaps you don't need culture, art, architecture, diversity or history at all? Maybe you find that at the suburban mall?

Anonymous said...

The king has said in a statment to the press there has been no viable opptions presented¿ Make his slumlordian freinds pay there tenants use the services the most and destroy whole blocks with there neglect and disruptions¿ Five hundred per good unit and up to one thousand a disruptive unit. The police could do the math and bill the kings slumlordian freinds accordingly to be givin to the pension problem directly. This ordanance would add to the MMO dramaticly and probably pay the debt off and be in good standing with in one year¿


REDD

Anonymous said...

As to the LCA option. Observation suggests that very little talent exists to pull off a fair, regional strategy that would prove beneficial.

Indeed, it does not appear that there is any ethical talent in the valley to carry out sound public policy. Bunch of egotistical, power-hungry people more worried about whose on first instead of their constituents.

Anonymous said...

@11:54 Amen brother.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:06 :

You know Pawlowski WILL win his Water War, right?

WHEN has he EVER lost?

Hope that concept does not go over your head.